NYC Jazz Fest: Marco Benevento Trio, Bitches Brew Revisited, Dr. Lonnie Smith

NYC Winter Jazz Fest 2010

On a cold Saturday night in NYC, I caught some amazing jazz music in the Village as a part of the NYC Winter Jazz Festival. The “festival” was basically just a series of shows at five different Village venues — Le Poisson Rouge, Sullivan Hall, the Bitter End, Kenny’s Castaways, and Zinc Bar — as opposed to the original Knitting Factory, where the festival used to take place. Overall, the music and musicians were stellar, but what really struck me about the festival was the sheer variety of sounds that now live under the general jazz umbrella. We saw everything from West African guitar music to classical jazz to several varieties of rock/funk jazz fusion.

Along with the overall mix of sounds also came a very mixed crowd. When my buddy and I stepped into Le Poisson Rouge for the Occidental Brothers — doing their fine take on West African guitar music — we suddenly felt very young. And unfortunately for the Occidental Brothers, a good half of the crowd sat through their energetic and dance-oriented set. I was amazed that people could sit through a set with such great energy, but each to his own.

It was clear that the “early” crowd was waiting for what were considered the headliners — the more traditional/studied jazz artists on the lineup. Jenny Sheinman & Jason Moran did a classical-oriented set as a violin and piano duo. Later on, the Vijay Iyer Trio also brought a traditional jazz approach with a piano, bass, drums combo that had the crowd mesmerized. I thoroughly enjoyed both sets; the musicianship and attention to detail was outstanding. That said, the place was packed to the gills, and overall the atmosphere was a bit too stuffy for me. Amazingly enough, Vijay Iyer made a comment that it was one of the best jazz crowds he’d ever played to in NYC. I guess I’m just more accustomed to the party atmosphere of your standard rock club.

As such, it’s not surprising that my favorite sets of the evening tended much more towards the groove and funk-based fusion. Although I knew I’d definitely get a taste of that style later on the evening, I was pleasantly surprised to catch a super funky set by the Dr. Lonnie Smith Trio, who tore up Sullivan Hall with their organ-based jazz-funk.

NYC Winter Jazz Fest 2010

By their look/style, you couldn’t have picked a more random trio (a nicely dressed white boy on guitar, a young drummer that looked like a hipster Spike Lee, and then Dr. Lonnie Smith, whose signature turban and long white beard give him a bit of a genie/wizard look). But man, could they drop the funk!

NYC Winter Jazz Fest 2010

Later on, we also caught a kind of local super-group of New York musicians do a tribute of Miles Davis’s original Bitches Brew combo from ’69-70, called “Bitches Brew Revisited.” Although they updated the sound with a few new trumpet effects and an occasional hip-hop beat from DJ logic, they generally stuck close to that kind of free-jazz and rock fusion that Miles conjured for the original album back in late 1969.

NYC Winter Jazz Fest 2010

NYC Winter Jazz Fest 2010

While the throwback to Bitches Brew was fun, I felt it dragged on a bit long, which is basically my same take on the Bitches Brew album. Although the idea and instrumentation was revolutionary, the actual execution wasn’t all that amazing.

By this point, the late-night crowd had completely morphed into a younger, more jam-type scene, with heads apparently coming out of the woodwork in anticipation for the Marco Benevento Trio to rock the party. Before beginning his set, Marco did his best Keith Jarret impression and told us all he better not see one camera during the set. His reference was a bit over the heads of most in attendance, but it was a facetious take on Keith Jarrett’s now infamous 2007 rant at the “Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia, Italy”. It was an interesting statement to make within the context of the overall vibe at the jazz festival, which was a much more quiet and proper affair during the earlier sets. Given Marco’s ability to bring his jazz-influenced music to a younger, more rock-oriented club audience, he seemed put himself squarely onto the rock’n'roll side of the fence….and perhaps it was his way of saying that the kids are alright, even with all their cameras, texting and social networking status updates.

NYC Winter Jazz Fest 2010

The trio proceeded to play a rockin’ set of originals and covers from Benevento’s solo albums Me Not Me and Invisible Baby. It was pushing past the 1:30-2am range at this point, so the crowd had thinned out and we scored a killer spot in front of the stage. Although I still hate my camera for still photos, it’s not bad for video, and I was able to grab a few decent clips from Marco’s set:

Marco Benevento Trio – 1.9.10 – Atari [YouTube]

Marco Benevento Trio – 1.9.10 – “The Real Morning Party [YouTube]

As if to further emphasize his earlier point about the jazz crowd, Marco invited everyone onto the stage to join the band for their high-energy’ cover of the Knife’s “Heartbeats.” The up-close-and-personal spot allowed for some great video:

Marco Benevento Trio – 1.9.10 – “Heartbeats” [YouTube]

Although the set was very similar to the show I caught last Fall, it was a refreshingly energetic end to a long night of great jazz music and only further solidified my thoughts on Marco’s current creative energies.

For more, check out the my full photo set or the rest of the videos.